OCAA cancels winter semester sports
No one was surprised when the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association pulled the plug Thursday on varsity sports competition for the 2021 winter semester.
But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
“It’s tough, for sure,” said Michele O’Keefe, Niagara College’s associate director of athletics and recreation. “It’s trying to get your head wrapped around a whole new way of life. In this situation, it is helping student-athletes manage themselves.
“The time management that comes along with being a student-athlete is critical and all of sudden you don’t have it. That’s where you have to make sure they’ve got everything they need to stay on the right track.”
The biggest challenge facing Niagara’s coaches is to keep their players engaged in the sport in a year when they won’t be playing any games.
“Especially with the new ones, we want them to feel like they are part of the college even though they haven’t been in the building themselves,” O’Keefe said. “We are working to hopefully get into a modified training program in the gym and we are putting on the final touches to our plan before we present it to the executive for consideration.”
The goal is to keep the athletes moving and doing what they do.
“They might be wanting to punch each other in the head after a few weeks of small group training but as long as we adhere to the national sport and provincial sport organizations recommendations and public health recommendations and the plan at the college, hopefully we will be able to get back out there soon,” O’Keefe said, with a laugh.
Niagara College’s gym has been locked up tight since the pandemic began but O’Keefe said the basketball teams have been doing some informal workouts on their own.
O’Keefe, who passed her two-year anniversary at the college in July, is always thinking about the big picture, but the down time will give her even more time to craft her vision for Niagara College athletics.
“Six or seven months at home has given me a lot of time to think and have conversations,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what it will look like when we get back but I have got some ideas that I think will be fun.”
One of the areas O’Keefe is interested in is more external activities to bring people on campus to see what Niagara College has to offer.
“One of the events we want to do is sport and sustainability and I have been working with our sustainability office and the sustainability people at the Canada Games,” she said. “Now that the Games are postponed for a year, we want to have a bunch of little events between now and then. We are looking at doing a sport sustainability summit in the spring, whether it’s hybrid or in-person in the gym.
“It’s little things like that that will bring people together and get them on campus.”
Winter sports impacted by the cancellation include badminton, basketball, curling, indoor soccer and volleyball.
“The health of the entire OCAA membership and our participants remains our top priority, and we empathize, understand, and share the deep disappointment this especially causes for our winter sport student-athletes,” OCAA president Nathan McFadden said. “After extensive contingency planning and collaborating with our members, the reality is that there are far too many obstacles to allow the OCAA to operate while providing a safe and quality varsity experience for our student-athletes.”
Among the factors contributing to the decision were: restrictive measures put in place by the provincial sport regulatory bodies as well as orders from public health that don’t allow for regular sanctioned competition to take place; the hybrid academic delivery model for the 2021 winter semester minimizes the number of students and staff on campuses; and, making the decision early enough to allow student-athletes time to make informed academic decisions in advance of the January 2021 semester.
“The OCAA will return stronger from this due to our current strategic initiatives that are already underway,” McFadden said. “The future viability of our sports are going to be more important than ever before to enhancing the post-secondary educational experience and we look forward to uniting our student-athletes, campuses and communities together in sport.”